Work Smart Then Hard to Find the Solution

Think it through before taking action! had a Town Hall meeting the other day that got me thinking (something typically only reserved for special moments like finding my wife a present or watching the latest episode of Homeland.)

Our Town Halls are semi-regular occurrences that collect the entire company into the lounge where we take in team-building exercises, company updates, catered lunches and a bit of socializing. In fact, if you don’t have some form of this for your organization, or at least your department, it’s worth investigating. Just an excuse to get to know your coworkers a bit better – maybe even pair up with someone you haven’t had much interaction with.

So at this particular meeting, we sat down to find a myriad of bendy straws and tape in front of us with a pair of scissors and a book nearby. After being split up into groups, we were informed the rules of this particular team-building activity:

  • We had a $10,000 “budget” to work with
  • Straws were worth $200
  • Masking tape was worth $100
  • Any resource that is cut with the scissors is only charged once
  • We had 20 minutes to complete the objective

The objective was simple: Build the tallest, most cost effective structure that can support the book’s weight.

Once the clock started, my team set to work combining straws and taping them together in an attempt to form a tall, connected triangle that would ideally hold up the book. It took us the entire 20 minutes to make an impressive-looking pyramid structure.

When the buzzer sounded, we had used around $5000 in resources (half the allotted amount) and, looking around, we clearly had the tallest structure. We gingerly placed the book atop the pyramid… and it collapsed under the weight, smashing the straws as well as our hopes of coming out of this as victors.

It didn’t take long to find the winning team. Guess how much they had spent? $200. One straw. Cut into three pieces. Placed carefully, those three pieces were able to support the weight of the book. Easily the most cost-effective structure and since most of the others had failed or overspent in resources, it was a clear winner.

So, I learned, or rather was reminded, of the importance of always working smart. In team-building exercises as well as in life and work, it’s important not to overthink the solution and to realize that there is typically a simple solution out there to solve your issue. And rather than the notion of working smart, not hard – we need to be vigilant in working smart then hard.

Hard work is definitely part of the equation – but it’s the second step. Let’s face it, barely anybody is getting anywhere in this world without working hard for it. Hard work is essential, but we need to think our actions through first.

And while I’ve rarely been accused of over-thinking a problem, I still forget from time to time the importance at looking at every side of an issue before attacking it.

a beautiful mindI love the scene in A Beautiful Mind where Russell Crowe’s John Nash closes the classroom window to drown out the sound of construction workers. When the classroom gets too warm, a female student opens the window and calls down to the workers imploring them to work elsewhere for the next 45 minutes, which they agree to. Nash watches on in fascination and states, “As you’ll find in multivariable calculus, there are often a number of solutions to any given problem.”

The simple truth is that sometimes we have to recondition our thinking to address the more obvious solutions than spend our time and resources trying to solve an issue the hard way.

For your next project, take the time to think it through and you’ll agree that time spent analyzing a solution is much better spent than time wasted backtracking to fix a misstep.

2014-01-31T09:01:30+00:00 January 31st, 2014|

One Comment

  1. […] all heard the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder” (or as Peter says, “Work smart then hard“). Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how smart or hard you work, odds are that you still […]

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